Nostalgia - what’s in a street name?

Handel Bennett of The Sid Vale Association with professor Brian Golding who was invited to talk to t

Handel Bennett of The Sid Vale Association with professor Brian Golding who was invited to talk to the group about the history of Sidmouth street names. Ref shs 8471-08-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton - Credit: Archant

A few years ago, Ann Liverton came up with the idea of making a record of the origins of the street names of Sidmouth, at about the same time that I had started collecting interesting names.

Ann was particularly concerned that we might lose sight of the origins of the more recently named streets, while I was keen to delve into the histories behind some of the older names.

The quest turned out to be fascinating and led to the Sidmouth Town Council publishing the book Street Names of Sidmouth.

Roads connect people, so have existed since the first people settled in this area as long as 6,000 years ago.

For most of that time, road names have been ephemeral, reflecting some landmark or occupant who was well enough known to be a useful label.

An example in Sidmouth is Tinkers Lane, recorded in the 1813 manor sale details.

Once the land started to be built on, the tinkers camped elsewhere, and the name soon disappeared, except in the memories of the oldest inhabitants.

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All that changed with the arrival of the Penny Post and the need for everyone to have an written address.

The resulting street names of Sidmouth tell a fascinating story.

Take one example: Arcot Road.

Today it is a busy road out of Sidmouth, meeting the Sidford Road at Exeter Cross.

So what is its connection with a small town, now a suburb of the city of Vellore in southern India?

Although small by today’s standards, Arcot held a strategic position on the River Palar, 50 miles inland of Madras, now Chennai.

It was the site of a key battle in the Anglo-French struggle for control of India, when in 1751 Robert Clive, although a civilian, led a small force that successfully withstood a 56-day siege.

The district remained volatile and was policed by the Madras Light Cavalry, which was joined in 1785 by Charles Rumley, a young officer from County Clare, Ireland, who would eventually rise to be lieutenant general.

He married Mary in 1803, and they had three children: Charles, who followed his father into the Madras cavalry, and two daughters, Louisa and Amelia Eliza.

In 1820, during furlough in England, he had a house built “high up amid the old trees and sloping lawns” in Sidmouth and called it Arcot House.

On retirement in 1825, Charles lived at Arcot until his death in 1845.

He is buried in the churchyard of Sidmouth Parish Church.

His younger daughter married a Sidmouth physician, Theodore Mogridge, and they lived at Arcot House until her death in 1885.

The land was developed as a council estate in 1927 to designs by R W Sampson and was opened by Neville Chamberlain.

At this time, the house was home to the Beehive School. In 1953, the house was purchased by the council and opened as a residential home in memory of those who lost their lives in World War Two.

Of course, I have skated over many things that could be said about Arcot, General Rumley and the house.

Maybe a reader of this could give a much more complete history.

If so, the Sidmouth History Group would love to hear from you care of the Herald. Email